Epilogue – Satori

The weather has become even worse since we arrived home yesterday. Persistent heavy rain for 24 hours and now increasingly strong winds making boating challenging if not dangerous.
When we came through the Bank Newton & Gargrave locks yesterday we only saw 2 other boats on the move, both dejected hire boaters determined to make the most of their holiday. We saw far more moored up in and around Skipton looking bereft and going nowhere. A guy from a local hire boat company was delivering a replacement TV to a boat holed up in the rain at Gargrave locks. I imagine the family were going stir crazy without a working goggle box!

I doubt much has changed today, if anything it’s worse. There have been no boats past Wyvern’s moorings since we got home yesterday. We are certainly glad to be home safe and off the water. We really pushed ourselves to get home but I doubt we could have completed a 12 hour stint in these conditions.

It’s hard to remember what we have seen and done over the last 6 weeks on the cut – the blog is already proving to be a vital source of information to jog our memories.

We have cruised the full length of several waterways, the Leeds & Liverpool, Oxford, Macclesfield, Bridgewater, Huddersfield Narrow & Huddersfield Broad canals and significant lengths of the Coventry, Peak Forrest, Trent & Mersey, Aire & Calder and Calder & Hebble canals ultimately reaching and coasting along the River Thames. We have gone through over 500 locks and a dozen tunnels. We have boated through hail, gales, thunderstorms, high water and clear blue skies and sunshine with idyllic conditions. A typical English summer of course!

Every day was different bringing unique challenges and experiences for us. Throughout we have been an effective and happy team. (Hope you’ve picked up the reference from the movie “Oblivion”, one of Steve’s favourites). Confident in each other’s skills and abilities to get the job done regardless of the prevailing conditions and enjoying the challenges and pushing ourselves to always go that bit further (we are Pilgrims – another reference but no clues ). It’s been fun.

The rewards have been enormous. Firstly the pleasures (and difficulties) of seeing England from a unique perspective. Predominantly rural but much industrial, both vibrant and decayed. In this regard the Leeds & Liverpool canal was the worst and arguably the best. In terms of the run down, neglected and in some areas (Blackburn & Wigan) downright dangerous stretches we experienced the worst of the system. Both ends of this canal at Wigan/Blackburn and Leeds are simply dreadful but if a boater wants to get south then there is no alternative to going through them. Conversely, the stretch from Bank Newton to Saltaire is arguably the most beautiful we have been through, with the best facilities. We must confess to a little bias as Wyvern’s home moorings are along this stretch and we have not seen finer anywhere.
The Oxford canal with its section 21 disgraceful moorings runs a close second but at least this is a small stretch on the outskirts of Oxford and since the locks were smaller the lack of maintenance was not such a problem (if you had a 19 mm spanner).

And what of the people we have met? The vast majority were kind, friendly and welcoming. In particular the “live aboards” we met along the way. We passed pleasant, hilarious and informative times with strangers and both received and gave help and advice. And unexpectedly Manchester was the most cheery and jolly stretch.

Sadly, our experiences of the majority of hire boaters we encountered is less enthusiastic. Many are naive, ill prepared, rude and in some cases dangerous to other boaters. We actually don’t blame them so much as some of the hire boat operators who let them out on the water so Ill prepared. We encountered several boats overloaded with drunk stag parties, – some hire places specifically advertise for this trade. We were rammed by one such boat as were other moored boats but there is no recourse for damage. But more worrying are the people who spend a fortune on their Holiday and are panicking and stressed when they realise they can’t cope at the first lock (not a way for children to remember family holidays). Our only advice would be just to have one of the crew take a full one day course before shelling out! The waterways may be beautiful and should be open to all to enjoy but they can also be dangerous places for the inexperienced and inebriated (and those unfortunate enough to encounter them).

Then there are the “boat polishers”, private boat owners who spend more time polishing and looking at their boats in soulless marinas than using them on the cut. Scared witless of getting a scuff or a scratch they dawdle about getting in serious boaters way and holding others up. If you don’t want to get it scrapped then don’t buy a boat is our advice!

Yes, we are opinionated but we believe we have earned the right. Already, Wyvern is known for “doing the Wigan Flight” solo amongst other feats of dering do and with that comes respect from fellow boaters who can walk the walk rather than talk the talk.

Almost without exception the Canal & River Trust personnel we met (mainly substantive and volunteer lock keepers) were highly professional, courteous and helpful. They certainly made our passage through numerous lock flights easier.
However, the Wigan Flight was a notable exception. Without doubt the worst experience of the entire journey. This very nearly broke us. The locks are poorly maintained with very heavy gates and infernal “anti-vandal” locks on every paddle (which clearly don’t stop the vandals), water levels are low due to a mixture of poor maintenance & management and vandalism. Of these locks not one was fully functional and leakage was appalling. The locks at Blackburn, though very well maintained, have an unenviable reputation as being virtual “no go areas” with high levels of intimidation and violence from local ne’er do wells. The wise boater locks through early in the morning to avoid them.

In some areas dependent upon tourism there are also oddities. The most perfect of Telfords’ designs, the Bosley Locks, which we had been looking forward to were a total nightmare of bad maintenance (deemed the ‘evil locks ‘ appropriately by a passing boater). No excuse on this really.
The facilities such as water points, refuse disposal and sanitation stations on C&RT waterways were generally well located and of a good standard. The same cannot be said for those on the Bridgewater canal (owned by the Manchester Ship Canal Company) which were uniformly dire.

Other unexpected areas of beauty were on the Trent and Mersey and Coventry. Remarkable areas of woodland and pasture interspersed with the history of the canals. This seems a pattern throughout the system, always hidden wildlife and unexpected history.

The Thames (though we only went as far as Abingdon due to high water) was so well managed and civilised. The safety information, moorings and lock advice was impeccable. It was noteworthy that many of the locks had defibrillators to hand. A really important safety item that can and does save lives. I was very concerned that nowhere on the other waterways were these available. In particular I made a point of alerting C&RT to the lack of a defibrillator at the Standedge tunnel. I received a curt “they are not mandatory” reply (presumably for insurance/liability purposes. Well.if the boaters on the Thames have access to them I fail to see why those on C&RT waters don’t. I suspect it’s down to money (or lack of it).
All the lockies were a delight. (and thanks Richard but we still don’t want to take a Canada goose each as a souvenir ).

We have commented on our experiences of the way some (probably the minority) of farmers “care” for their beasts – and in all to many cases we were saddened by what we saw. Numerous sheep & lambs drowned, or injured (we heard 2 sheep bleating pitifully in distress having fallen down a bank but were powerless to help) but abandoned, several cattle fallen in the cut and poorly drained and fenced pasture. We have brought back a commitment not to eat meat, so one life change as a result of the trip!

Our advice? Start really early, before six, this is the best of a waterway day, moor early and explore wherever it is you are staying for the evening. Out in the wilds, in the centre of cities, or in industrial wasteland.
Plan ahead. Use CanalPlanner and the excellent PDF cruising maps from Waterways Routes (combine them with the GPS facility of Memory-Map on a smartphone and you’ll always know where you are). The Nicholson canal books are also a must. Invest in a pair of good quality Walkie-Talkies and keep them with you. They proved indispensable on many occasions when we were not in line of sight of each other for communications around locks and especially the Armitage tunnel on the Trent & Mersey.

 

Be aware that despite your maps and plans every day is unpredictable. You might have all the locks in your favour if a boat just happens to be coming up but if you arrive 5 minutes early or late you’ll have missed him and they won’t be. Just accept it. Be kind and considerate and help your fellow boaters. The cut is a great leveller and what goes around comes around.

Above all enjoy. It’s England.

And us? The plan was to sell Wyvern on our return since we had achieved the long term plan. But we are planning a further long trip next summer. Can anyone suggest an escape plan from Yorkshire that doesn’t involve the Wigan Flight, Huddersfield Narrow or Trent Tidal?

Day 44 (18) – Home!

Wyvern is back on her home moorings tonight. Her crew are well but wet and exhausted 😀

We started off at 7.00am in the pouring rain and were at the Bank Newton locks (6) by 7.30. Nigel, the C&RT lockie on station recognised Wyvern and helped us straight through the flight in under an hour- must be a record so our thanks to him and his colleague whose name we didn’t get.

There were another 7 locks to go through before Skipton and most were in our favours so we were in Skipton by noon. The rain still hadn’t let up, if anything it was getting worse and despite our wet weather gear we were both soaked through, we reckoned we couldn’t get any wetter so kept going in the knowledge that home is a 4 hour run from Skipton. We could hardly see the house the garden is so overgrown.

We will give much thought to an epilogue but for now we have much catching up to do.

Day 43 (17) – Bank Newton locks

A very long 11 hour day today and our first mechanical problem of the trip.

We set off from Hapton in heavy rain eager to get through Burnley and back into open countryside again. The M65 was always to close.

The first navigation item of interest was the Gannow tunnel outside Burnley, an arrow straight broad tunnel of exceptional construction, probably the most drip-free we have gone through.

Then on into Burnley by 7.30am. Of all the industrial towns we have gone through Burnley still displays its former dependence on the canal more than any other. While many of the old warehouses and wharves have been “reconstructed” to work in the modern era there are numerous examples of original and now derelict buildings, often the only sign of their canal past are the rusting mooring rings and hooks in the crumbling masonry.

There is a huge straight embankment through the centre of the town that carries the cut high above the shops offices and houses below. It’s known as the mile but is apparently just short of that. 🤔

The canal refused to make way for open spaces as we went through Nelson but at last the 7 Barrowford locks hoved into view. Not the easiest to lock through due to fast and full bywashes but with the help of a C&RT lockie we were through in a couple of hours.

It was while taking on water at the top lock our first engine problem manifested- we couldn’t turn the engine off! The “Stop” solenoid was FUBAR. It then started to rain a torrent while Steve tried to figure out the problem.

As we were so close to home we telephoned Snaygill Boats (who do all servicing etc for WYVERN) for help/advice. To our huge relief Jo (Snaygill owner) came out on a Sunday afternoon and met us the other side of Foulridge tunnel (the leakiest/drippiest by far) and replaced the dead solenoid. Words can’t express our gratitude for her kindness in getting us out of a fix in this way. Thank you Jo.

As we have said numerous times life on the cut is as much luck/fate as planning. If the solenoid had failed anywhere else on our journey we would have been stymied. Of course we belong to River Canal Rescue (the AA of the waterways) who would have fixed us but it would have meant a huge delay while they got to us. We really have been lucky on this trip.

So, after only a 30 minute delay we were on our way again.

We went through the 3 Greenberfield locks in short order and are currently moored up in the most beautiful open countryside a short distance from the 6 Bank Newton locks. Too much to do today so called a halt.

We are on the home stretch now, we might just make it home late tomorrow but there are still 11 locks, numerous swing bridges and a fair few miles between here and Riddlesden but we’ll see how tomorrow pans out. Unfortunately, the weather forecast is for heavy rain all day tomorrow- not what we need with so many locks still to do. It’s uncomfortable and dangerous as the lock sides get slippy.

However, This evening it’s sunny and windy and it’s almost the start of the Aire Valley so the Curlews and Peewits are in full cry. Incredibly beautiful and peaceful.

Day 42 (16) – Hapton

We have heard from several boaters that the Blackburn locks can be a virtual “no go”area at certain times of the day and that it is advisable to go through early in the morning to avoid the attention of the local ne’er do wells. So we were up st 5.30am and at the locks by 7.00am this morning. There wasn’t another soul in sight. The locks themselves are very well maintained and a joy to use and we went through all 6 in under 90 minutes even though all were set against us. Pretty nifty!While we had no trouble at all we saw copious evidence of ne’er do well activities especially at the 2 top locks – broken bottles, glass all over and in the locks and piles of assorted detritus -presumably all from just the previous evening. I can only imagine the harassment boaters who ventured down the flight would have been subjected to. So, if you are thinking of going through this flight moor up about 1 mile out of town the night before and go through at 7.00am. Anyone from C&RT reading this blog needs to take note and issue appropriate advice.

Anyway, we high tailed out of Dodge by 8.30 in beautiful sunshine. The countryside outside Blackburn is simply beautiful. I could have sworn we were actually going “uphill” on one stretch but it was obviously an illusion (age, tiredness, stress take your pick)😦

There were stretches of post-industrial decay around Church and Accrington but the open countryside and Pendle Hill soon returned.

Fancying a pub lunch (we had been on the go for 7 hours by now) we moored up in Hapton – a small village in the heart of open countryside.

Sadly, the village does not do justice to its surroundings. It is “dead” Saturday afternoon and virtually nobody around – the only pub was empty and did not look inviting (no evidence of pub grub either). There is one local “corner store” reminiscent of Arkwright’s “Open all hours” so we will have a nice “down time” on WYVERN.

However, there is a superb Chinese takeaway – the Wing Wah about 200 yards from bridge 121 on Manchester road (opposite the Railway pub). Arguably the tastiest we have ever had. Highly recommended,

Tomorrow will see us through Burnley and at the canal summit at Barrowford locks and hopefully through Foulridge tunnel

Day 41 (15) – Blackburn 

One of the things we have learned on this trip is that you can never quite predict how your day will turn out and while a degree of planning is necessary serendipity / luck will all to often throw you a curved ball both good and bad and today was a great example of the former 👍We had a much delayed start due both to the pouring rain and also our limited destination distance to set us up for tomorrow so we left in full wet weather gear about 9.30 and arrived at Johnson’s Hill bottom lock about 11.15. This is a flight of 7 locks set in beautiful countryside but despite 10 hours sleep last night we were still feeling the effects of the Wigan Flight and not overly looking forward to having to work hard again today.
However, there was a boat waiting to share passage up the flight with an experienced crew and joy of joys 4 lockies all eager to help us through. We thought all our birthdays had come at once. Even the rain stopped and we locked through the whole flight in under 2 hours. Just as we exited the top lock the rain returned so it was a quick water fill up and then a very welcome (and surprisingly good) lunch in the Top Lock Pub.

While drinking & driving on the cut is not a crime (sadly) Steve wisely had only 1 pint of Guinness as we had to travel north a few miles to our moorings for the night. These are very pleasant in countryside just outside of Blackburn. We plan to be on our way no later than 6.00am tomorrow morning to get to and through the 6 Blackburn locks early. There is a partial canal closure due to C&RT repairing a leaking aqueduct a mile or so after the locks which will no doubt slow us up a bit.